Bill for mobile-friendly government websites cruises through Senate

Rep. Robin Kelly speaks Thursday at the Dell EMC Digital Technologies Digital Transformation Summit produced by FedScoop. (Zaid Shoorbajee / FedScoop)

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A bill to optimize federal websites for mobile devices could soon become law.

The Connected Government Act passed the Senate on Thursday by unanimous consent, and now it heads to the president’s desk for possible enactment.

The bill requires that within 180 days agencies design new mobile-friendly websites or update legacy ones to operate better on smartphone and tablet devices. The Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration must also report to Congress on the development of the website conversions within 18 months of enactment.

Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., who sponsored the measure, said in a release that it updates federal services to match technological advances and strengthens the government’s ability to provide citizen services.

“More and more Americans are using smartphones to access government services.  We have a responsibility to keep pace with technological innovation and make it easy for citizens to engage with their government,” she said.

The bill had previously passed the House in a unanimous vote in November and cleared the Senate without amendment just over a month after it was introduced in the chamber.

Kelly spoke about the need for the legislation at October’s Dell Technologies Digital Transformation Summit, saying that the changing use of internet-connected technologies meant that the government had to update the way it approaches web-based services.

“With 77 percent of Americans owning and using a smartphone and 10 percent of Americans only accessing the internet with a smartphone, our inability to design mobile-friendly websites is a complete failure of our duty to serve the American people,” she said.

Kelly also cited a March 2017 report from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation that said only 59 percent of federal websites were mobile-friendly and only 36 percent passed a mobile page load speed test, mostly due to a lack of optimization techniques, such as compressing images to fit mobile device screens.

The loading issues impact how citizens are able to connect with the government, Kelly said in an emailed statement, and by making them more mobile-friendly, the government can reach citizens who don’t have desktop computer access.

“Deep urban and remote rural communities are the most affected by our government’s failure to provide mobile-accessible websites,” she said. “Without broadband coverage, these Americans are tied to the mobile-only Internet. Since my district includes part of the City of Chicago and more than 1,200 farms, I understand how this bill will have different, but equally positive impacts throughout urban, suburban and rural communities,”

The bill codifies a 2016 OMB memorandum that calls for federal websites perform as well on mobile technologies as they do on desktop computers.

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Connected Government Act, Mobile Devices, Robin Kelly
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